Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mushroom Alfredo Wonderpot

I haven't been this excited about a recipe for a long time. It capitalizes on the pasta wonderpot trend, which involves making a pasta sauce, adding extra liquid to it, and cooking pasta directly in it. Obviously, this is NOT the traditional way to cook pasta, which involves cooking in copious amounts of boiling water, draining it, and adding it to a separately prepared sauce. Three benefits of the wonderpot method make it superior than the traditional method for this recipe. First, as the name indicates, it only uses one pot. Second, and more importantly, since you are not draining away the starchy cooking liquid from the pasta, the liquid reduces and thickens, enhancing creamy pasta dishes by making them extra creamy and eliminating the need to make a separate roux. Third, because the pasta cooks in the sauce, flavor is infused throughout the pasta, not just the sauce.

This seemed like the perfect technique to make an ultra-creamy mushroom alfredo sauce in which the mushroom flavor infuses through the entire dish. This recipe is incredibly simple, with just a few basic ingredients. It would be a perfect dish to serve at a dinner party: deceptively easy to make and hard to mess up, but sophisticated in flavor. It is easily customizable: add bacon or chicken for extra protein, spinach, chard, or kale for extra veggies, and whatever herbs you have on hand.

Mushroom Alfredo Wonderpot
2 t butter
1 lb mushrooms (I like cremini), thinly sliced
6-7 cloves fresh garlic, minced (I like it really garlicky, so I do 7)
your choice of herbs (1 t dried Italian seasoning or thyme is a good bet. I had fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley from my garden, so I used those. Note that dried herbs are more concentrated, so I used about a tablespoon of each fresh herb)
1 t salt
black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
5 cups total milk and water (I don't keep cow's milk on hand, so I use 12 oz canned evaporated 2% milk from my pantry plus 3.5 cups water. 3 cups 2% milk and 2 cups water would be equivalent.)
1 lb pasta of choice (I like Barilla's white fiber spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 T lemon juice (optional)

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, saute mushrooms in butter on medium-high heat until golden brown. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add remaining ingredients except Parmesan cheese and lemon juice, if using. If using fresh herbs, reserve to add at the end. Bring to a low simmer and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes. The pasta has a tendency to stick to itself and the bottom of the pan, so stir frequently. When pasta is al dente, remove from heat and stir in Parmesan, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, if using. Pasta should be fairly saucy at this point. If it is too dry and thick, add a bit more water or milk. If it is too thin, let stand, uncovered, for a few minutes to thicken.

Serves 5-6.

Reheats and even freezes well. Just add a little water or milk and reheat gently.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Three ingredient chickpea flour flatbread a la three cultures

Chilla chillin' on a plate
There's a lot to like about chickpea flour. It is much higher in protein and fiber and lower in carbs than flour. It's also gluten free. But I think my favorite part about it is that it makes delicious flatbread with just three ingredients and no leavener!

The interesting thing is that separate cuisines in the Mediterranean and India have created their own versions of this flatbread. Indian chilla or pudla is somewhere between naan and a crepe, and it's my favorite chickpea flour application. It's what I usually dip in my curries because I can't be bothered to make or have on hand naan. It would also make a great gluten-free wrap. Socca (from France) and farinata (Italy) are thicker, sturdier, oven-baked flatbreads, often infused with copious amounts of olive oil and herbs. If I want a quick and healthy pizza dough, I'll make a farinata-style flatbread in a cast-iron pan, and then top with my favorite pizza toppings.

Chickpea flour is also called besan or gram flour (NOT graham flour). You can find it at any Indian grocery store for a pittance, and I've noticed more grocery and high-end stores selling it in the natural foods section.

Chilla (Indian crepe)
1/2 cup chickpea flour
pinch of salt (1/8 t)
seasoning of choice, optional (I like a pinch of garlic powder)
shy 1/2 cup water (I heard that warm water works best, so I just use warm tap water)
2 t butter

Mix together dry ingredients in a cup or bowl. Add water slowly, mixing to ensure there are no lumps. Add enough water to make a very loose pancake batter. Let stand for 5 minutes, if you have time. It seems to come out fine if you use the batter immediately, too. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and melt butter. Pour all batter and swirl around so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan. Cook for a few minutes, pulling up an edge occasionally to check for browning. Once it is golden brown, flip the entire pancake with a big spatula. Cook on other side until golden brown. Makes one large chilla, which serves one or two, depending on how hungry you are!

Farinata or Socca (oven-baked flatbread, great as a pizza crust)
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 t salt
seasonings of choice, optional (I like 1/4 t garlic powder and 1/4 Italian seasoning or rosemary
shy 3/4 cup water
1 T olive oil

Mix together dry ingredients in a cup or bowl. Add water slowly, mixing to ensure there are no lumps. Add half of the olive oil and enough water to make a very loose pancake batter. Let stand for 5 minutes to 2 hours, if you have time. It seems to come out fine if you use the batter immediately, too. Heat oven to 450 and place a large cast iron skillet inside to preheat. Remove from oven, oil skillet. Pour in batter and swirl around so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan. If using as pizza crust, cook about 7 minutes, until set. Add pizza toppings and return to oven until toppings are cooked. If eating plain, allow the farinata to cook a bit longer, until golden brown.